Dinner does not equal sex

Originally Published: November 1, 1993 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 12, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I was looking through your column and thought that I should ask your advice on a rather sensitive matter. I recently invited a guy over for dinner at my house. We had a great time together, yet he presumed that he was going to sleep with me and insisted that I had led him on during the main course of the evening. I do not see how this is possible, but this guy keeps on hassling me for sex and I do not want to lose him as a friend, but I really do not see him as a sexual partner. What should I do?

Yours,
Worried

Dear Worried,

While the world of dating is sometimes confusing, there is one thing that is always clear: No one "owes" anyone sex, no matter what. Even if, on the night this guy was at your apartment, you made out with him for an hour, even if you took off your clothes, even if you went so far as to say something like, "I really want to make love with you," and then led him into the bedroom and, at the last minute, changed your mind and decided that it just wasn't the right thing for you, and you told him, and then he felt really, really disappointed, you still do not owe him sex — at all.

You mention you would like to maintain the friendship. So what do you do about the fact that he made an incorrect presumption, and insisted that you had led him on, and that he keeps pressuring you about sex?

A frank conversation, in person or on the phone, may be the best way to get your message across. An email or a letter could work as well, although sometimes the tone of an email can be difficult to interpret. For an issue like this, a "real time" conversation may help you be most clear about how you feel. Regardless, one message you might try to convey is that you don't want to risk losing him as a friend, but are uncomfortable with the way he is treating you.

Telling him how you feel may seem difficult; however speaking up when someone does something that bothers or upsets you it is an important part of any friendship. Before you decide to speak with him, think about the possible ways he may react, so you are prepared. He may feel awfully about his behavior and vow to change, he may simply listen without saying much, he may be upset and not want to talk. What's important is that you make yourself clear. In time, he will process what you have said.

In order to increase the chances of your being heard, you could consider the following steps:

  1. Describe the situation — "I enjoy your company and appreciate your friendship, but lately you've been pressuring me to have sex with you."
  2. Tell him how you feel about what's happening — "I feel uncomfortable and don't like being pressured. I'm not interested in having sex with you. The pressure you are placing on me is creating a situation where I'm not having fun with you anymore."
  3. Tell him what you want to happen — "I don't want to lose our friendship, but we can only stay friends if we are both comfortable with each other.  This means not talking about having sex, not kissing, not touching, and not hassling me. If you can't stop pressuring me about sex, then I can't be friends with you."

You can use your own words to sound natural, and stick to the 1-2-3 framework for clarity. The point of confronting this person in this way is to make yourself extraordinarily clear — you are unhappy with his behavior, not him as a person. Condemning him as a person — i.e., "you're really a jerk for continually wanting to have sex with me when I don't want to" — could put him on the defensive and sets you up for an uncomfortable fight.

After you speak (or write) to him, if he doesn't respond to your requests, or if he still just doesn't "get it," you may feel compelled to think about your next steps. What would allow you to feel most comfortable? Some steps may include:

  • Summarizing your feelings and requests in a letter or email (if you haven't already).
  • Referring him to resources that talk about what a healthy relationship looks like. If you are both at Columbia, you could refer him to the Men's Peer Education Program.
  • Asking him not to call, email, or visit you in-person.
  • Telling him you're not interested in seeing or talking with him.
  • Avoiding bumping in to him, whether at work, school, or out at parties.
  • You may choose to talk to someone like a counselor as well to help sort out your feelings and options. At Columbia, students may make an appointment at Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside campus) by calling 212-854-2878 or the Mental Health Service (CUMC campus) by calling 212-305-3400. You can also speak with a peer advocate at the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center.  Visit their website for more information.

You may find rehearsing the conversation with a friend or counselor helpful. You could even ask a friend to be available when you talk with him, so you can call and debrief immediately. Hopefully things will go smoothly, however it should be said; if you have ended the friendship, and he continues to contact or pressure you in any way, then this is no longer pressure, it is harassment, a legal issue, and a crime. For more information about harassment and how to handle it, check out the Related Q&As listed below.

With some contemplation and planning, you'll be well on your way to resolving this problem. Best of luck to you.

Alice